Hospice Hawaii Starts Pediatric Care Program

The nonprofit not only cares for terminally-ill adults, but now children, too.

Photo: Istock

Children are not small adults. Sounds obvious, but when it comes to hospice care, there hasn’t been kid-specific services until now.

“Caring for terminally-ill children and their families is not the same as caring for terminally-ill adults,” says Hospice Hawaii president Kenneth Zeri, who recently oversaw the launch of the Pediatric Care Program. “The complexity demanded that we have a dedicated team.”

Hospice Hawaii provides professional support, counseling and care to terminally-ill patients and their families and friends, most times within the comfort of the patients’ homes.

While the loss of a loved one is never easy, Zeri explains that providing end-of-life care and support for a child can be even more traumatic for families. “It goes against the natural order,” he says. “The loss of a child is a devastating loss, not just a loss of today, but a loss of the future.”

The new dedicated staff provides end-of-life, at-home care to about a dozen children each year, ranging in age from infants with congenital anomalies to children and teenagers with terminal cancer.

A lot of the pediatric hospice program mirrors the support system for adults, such as making sure the patients are as comfortable as possible, and counseling them and their family and friends. But the pediatric program incorporates what Zeri calls a developmentally appropriate method, meaning Hospice Hawaii pediatric nurses and social workers tailor the patients’ care and support based on their age. “Providing care is different for a three-year-old, a 10-year-old and 19-year-old,” he says. “We help them try and understand and ease their suffering and distress.”

Whereas patient and family counseling helps many adult patients, Zeri says art therapy and pet therapy has been successful for pediatric patients. “Sometimes it’s just playing with the children,” he says. “We want to help them live a normal life for as long as possible.”

The pediatric hospice care program is the first of its kind in the Islands, joining the ranks of a small handful of Mainland hospices that do so. Zeri says Hospice Hawaii recently brought on three social workers, three nurses and a pediatric nurse practitioner for the new program. The nonprofit also partners with Kapiolani Hospital for Women and Children, Tripler Army Medical Center and Kaiser.

Following the loss of a child, Hospice Hawaii provides bereavement counseling and holds a bereavement camp for families every summer.

“It’s very special work,” says Zeri. “It’s a real honor to come into a family’s life like this.”